By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – This year's Quincy University men's basketball team won't be remembered as a squad that piled up a lot of wins.
It's not a perfect consolation prize, but QU junior guard Chris Babbitt figures the Hawks did consistently show at least one attribute to the very end.
"Heart," Babbitt said. "I just know we've got grit. We never backed down. We never rolled over or just gave up."
The No. 11-seeded Hawks showed that mentality again Sunday in the first round of the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament. QU led No. 6 Lewis for most of the first half and hung close throughout the second half before succumbing to a 73-65 defeat at Neil Carey Arena. The loss ends the Hawks' season at 12-15.
"They played their tails off," said QU coach Marty Bell, who suffered his first losing season since going 11-17 in 2003-04, his first season at Quincy.
Ultimately though, the Hawks were undone by a couple sizable runs from their opponent, which was a common theme throughout the season.
QU led for about 16 minutes of the first half and was ahead 24-20 after Nate Des Jardins made a runner on the baseline with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining before halftime. The Flyers (19-8) responded with a 9-0 run to close the half, capped by Gabe Williams' 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining. Lewis never trailed after halftime.
"I thought the first half we kind of stood around and watched," said Lewis coach Scott Trost, whose team advanced to Thursday's GLVC Tournament quarterfinals at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., where they will play No. 3 Southern Indiana (20-6). "Playing that style makes you passive. I thought that's what it did, and I thought second half we were more aggressive."
QU got as close as 36-35 after Des Jardins' 3-pointer with 16:29 to play, but the Flyers countered with a 16-3 run to open up a 52-38 lead with 10:25 remaining.
The Hawks wouldn't go away. They trimmed the deficit to 64-60 after Babbitt's 3-pointer with 1:56 to play but never got any closer. Lewis went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in the final 46 seconds to seal its win.
"We fought the whole game, and I think besides that one run (by Lewis in the second half), I think we played pretty well," QU senior forward Tyler Thompson said.
Babbitt scored a career-high 28 points and went 11 of 19 from the field. He reached double figures in scoring 23 times this season. Des Jardins, a freshman point guard making his second career start, supplied 14 points. He was 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
Des Jardins accounted for eight of QU's 24 first-half points.
"Nate, he kept us in the game pretty good," Babbitt said.
Babbitt kept Quincy close throughout the second half.
He missed a dunk on an alley-oop lob from Jordan Wilson with 13:17 to play that would have cut QU's deficit to four points.
Yet, the failed alley-oop didn't impact Babbitt's play down the stretch. He scored 15 points in the final 13 minutes and was 7 of 9 from the field during that span.
"It was a big step for me," Babbitt said. "Normally, a bad play (like the missed dunk) would take me out of my game and I would lose focus. But that time, I knew I couldn't let that happen. This was a big game. I couldn't let it happen. I just had to let it roll off my back and just move on to the next play."
The Flyers had every answer down the stretch. After Dalton Hoover's free throw cut QU's deficit to 59-55 with 4:07 remaining, Lewis' David Bryant made a runner in the paint with one second remaining on the shot clock on the ensuing possession. Bryant scored a team-high 18 points.
Babbitt's basket in the paint cut the Flyers' lead to 61-57 with 3:16 to play before the Flyers pushed the lead to 64-57 on their next possession when Jarosz drained a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining on the shot clock.
"When we were cutting into the lead, it seemed like they answered the call," Bell said. "That's why they're 19-8. That's what good teams will do. That's what our program has to learn how to do is get a lead and (understand) how to defend that lead and answer the call."